It’s likely to be a hospital trip after all. Maya has persuaded me with her persuasive power to take care of a stationary admission. Sure, I’m feeling relatively well right now, but she pointed out that this is not a decisive criterion, as this mood can also quickly turn upside down again. When she reminded me that she had been with me for almost ten years now and had seen what this disease was doing to my life, I simply couldn’t disagree. All my knowledge, all the advice I give other people, I almost never use for myself. She said that my arrogance would eventually kill me because I am so presumptuous to believe that I can cope with this disease alone and overcome it on my own. I think it is time to admit to myself that I am unable to do so. I have tried it over the last few years, but if the last few months have shown me one thing, it is that this attempt has ultimately failed. I advise anyone suffering from a mental illness to seek professional help, but over the last few years I have done everything but listen to this advice. Maybe, no, no more maybe. Something definitely has to change. I have to change. Change my behaviour. One more time. If I want to survive the next few years, then I have to acknowledge that I need help from a doctor. That I can no longer do it alone, but better sooner than later do everything necessary to get along with myself and my life. I don’t know at this point how it looks with medication, because as far as I know there is no effective medication for the treatment of borderline and the last time I tried it (and when the diagnosis was not yet made) the consequences were rather unpleasant. Therapy will be absolutely necessary, so that I will learn strategies to deal better with the effects of the disease. I had always assumed that I only needed to read enough research to know what to do, and maybe that’s true. I probably have enough theoretical knowledge to actually know how to behave during these periods. However, it seems that all this knowledge is not enough to enable me to actually implement it. Or I overlook something essential. In any case, it is necessary for me, through professional care, to achieve the stability needed to restructure my life and live an organised life. Completely exaggerated, fucked-up characters are usually only exciting in movies, because we know that they fulfill their role within the structure of the movie and therefore work. But nobody sees how these people live their everyday lives. What daily challenges they have to struggle with and how difficult it is for them to get anything done in a reasonable way. I have felt this more than clearly in recent years. I have made so many mistakes, claim an unbelievably crappy impulse control to be my own and regularly lived a life to the limit and beyond. Of course such extremes are very attractive for an audience that sits comfortably in the cinema armchairs and is amused or repelled by the peculiarities of these people. But actually experiencing these excesses yourself is not necessarily the most enjoyable experience. I am not a movie or book character, rather I have a very real life. But living this life like a movie inevitably causes problems. If I ever write a book about how such a life actually feels, other people might understand that this is not a desirable state. Or maybe I’m also writing that book right now? Presumably, at least some of these thoughts will flow into the plot, for that they are too genuine and simply reflect too well through which extremes one walks almost daily. So there is probably something good about the fact that I take the trouble to write down this chaos. At some point I might actually be able to capitalize on it. A big toast to my materialistic worldview. It would be too bad, if I would use all these hours of writing only for myself, but nobody else. If I succeed in benefiting from it in a sustainable way, it would have its upside.
The advantage of extreme mood swings is obvious: As fast as bad episodes occur, they can disappear. Today, especially in comparison to yesterday, was actually quite good. Although I didn’t get anything productive up and running, I wanted to take some rest after the stress of the previous day. This may sound a little like a vindication, but at least I keep the routine of daily writing, even if it’s just these thoughts here and I write them again at night and nothing in the morning. Nevertheless, the deed itself counts, the when is secondary. Because I have decided to write regularly in the evenings, I somehow feel forced to go to bed earlier, because the silence for writing with pleasant music takes place in the dark on my laptop. There are no streams or games to distract me, but I have complete focus on what I’m doing right now. If I can somehow manage to get my crazy sleep rhythm back on track, then that’s fine with me. It’s the small steps that establish our habits and ultimately shape what we perceive as life. Here they are again. The Instagram slogans. Very good. Another sign that things are looking better again. Fortunately, Word has a practical search function that allows me to find these placative statements later and perhaps at some point actually give them their rightful place. If I then become a mega hip influencer, because all sorts of people like my super profound thoughts, that wouldn’t be without a certain irony. Then, out of the suffering, which is often part of these words, came something good in the end. I don’t want to die. In spite of an experience like yesterday this decision is certain for me. I didn’t finish it then and I won’t do it now. I believe that my struggle, my experience is too significant to give up. Not only for myself, but also in its symbolic effect for others. If, at some point, I finally decide to publish these lines, other people may be able to draw new courage from them. You will see the unfiltered abysses through which I sometimes walk, but also the way out. Or at least some valleys and oases that promise improvement. Perhaps this linguistic picture actually frames life with mental illnesses very well. While some people walk the sunlit cliff street of life, some of their fellow human beings fight their way through the abyss right next to it. But while the sun is making its way, for a few moments it illuminates even the darkest abysses and sometimes this brief moment is enough to awaken new courage, new hope, another attempt to escape from this abyss. Perhaps someone throws them a rope which they can only see with the light of the sun and can now finally grasp, or a few protruding stones bring a strenuous but promising ascent into the realm of possibility. Whatever it may be, these short moments of light can mean the decisive difference between life and death. I know I am just writing these words because today I was lucky enough to wake up with this light, but even during my darkest hours in the past months, I never wanted to put an end to my life. I knew that my head was telling me lies, that I was not this completely incompetent loser as it would like to portray me. That there are many people who care about me and value my work. I know that it is possible for me to help many people with my words. To give up now would be to destroy the work of years and possibly cause a reaction in others like “Well, even this guy gave up at some point because he had no strength left”. I don’t believe that living with mental illness means eternal agony and damnation – or even a death sentence. I believe that it is possible to immerse the abyss in glowing light and see hope where before there was only darkness, pain and despair. A better life is possible.
We never learned how to live. Out of an infinite nothing we are thrown completely unprepared into an existence that was impossible for us to choose. If we were to be given a say beforehand, it is not unlikely that we would fiercely resist such a life. Obviously, we do not always have a choice. Which is not without irony, as the perpetual mantra of Western industrial societies is that we only have to take our lives into our own hands to achieve everything we dreamed of. Being able to choose from a plethora of options is one of the great civilisational achievements of our affluent capitalist society. I really intend that as I write it now. We live in incredibly rich and privileged societies. Today, when we argue about extending equality or the recognition of multiple genders, it is a reminder that we are far from living in a perfect but very civilized society – an immense advance over the realities of past decades or even centuries. Recognizing this status quo as good and valid is important in order to understand the background to this work. For although we are fortunate to grow up in this privileged part of the world, every one of us faces a fundamental, overshadowing question: How does life actually work?
Despite all the quality of life we have gained, too few people still seem to have any idea of the basic building blocks of human existence. Otherwise it can hardly be explained that for many children in this country school starts still take place at biologically completely nonsensical times, while sleep researchers have been struggling for years to postpone the starting time in educational institutions. Or that the WHO now counts both obesity and opponents of vaccination among the greatest challenges to global health. The immense number of people with mental illnesses, their continuing stigmatization and a significant lack of access to treatment should also give sufficient cause for thought. But even when body and mind are in the prime of health, we often lack the knowledge to use both to our advantage.
We are thrown into the world and nobody tells us exactly what we should do now. Instead, we imitate our social role models, who often don’t know better themselves, move within a self-confirming cycle, get older, make the same mistakes as everyone else, and eventually die. Of course, this pattern does not apply to everyone to the same extent, but some aspects will be recognized by all of us. I am convinced that this cycle can not only be broken, but changed for the benefit of all.
While writing this work, I was accompanied by another central question: How do you become happy in a world you don’t understand?
Among the intellectual precursors of this idea for me are the works of the statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the behavior economists Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler as well as the psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Their work will be repeatedly reflected in the respective sections, as their ideas have served as valuable sources of inspiration for my own reflections.
The world around us poses a huge problem for our brains: on the one hand, we have an immense need to recognize causal relationships everywhere – a legacy of our evolutionary prehistory – on the other hand, the world is often too complex for us to actually see these relationships. Over many millennia of human history, however, such a need has been very beneficial. Those who quickly realized that it was better not to compete alone against a mammoth or that fire ensured that it remained warm even in winter, had an undeniable survival advantage. Just because causal connections are not always apparent doesn’t automatically mean that they don’t exist and that we can’t derive helpful insights about the world from them.
But with an increasing degree of civilization, technology, networking, globalization and all the other beautiful buzzwords that go with it, the demands placed on our brains are also increasing. There are now countless variables that can influence our lives, but only a few of them are actually known to us. Our need to understand and simultaneously control the world faces an immense challenge: we have to admit that we can neither understand nor control most things in life. This brave new world therefore requires alternative strategies that allow us to live within it in the best possible way, without perishing from its challenges.
This work is therefore a combination of strategic guidance, philosophy of life, empirical research and bad humour. In other words, ideal prerequisites for walking through the maze called life with a little more certainty.